"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (cf. verse 49)
Today's Gospel hands down to us words of Jesus that at first seem very strange to us. Again, Jesus is speaking to his disciples who have consciously chosen him and follow him, and not to people who call themselves Christians but have completely adopted the thinking and actions of the world, as is unfortunately widely the case today. For such Christians, what the world says is, as it were, already God's commandment. They no longer even notice that they have, actually, completely strayed from God's commandment. But Jesus is speaking here to all those who follw Christ. This is, actually, about the whole world.
Jesus came "to cast fire on the earth." He came to kindle this fire, and this fire is a sign of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, this fire came down on the disciples and on all those gathered. For this Jesus came and for this he suffered. The purpose of his suffering, his act of redemption, is the sending of the Holy Spirit to cast fire on the earth. And Jesus longs for this moment to come and to be already there, when this fire will be kindled. At the cross we experience how Jesus, after the cry, breathes out the Spirit, as it were, into the world, this fire, which then becomes visible and audible at Pentecost.
It is important that we share this longing of Jesus, this thirst for the fire that he casts on the earth, for the Holy Spirit. Let us never stop asking for this Holy Spirit. He does not force Himself upon us, but through Jesus' suffering He is released. He is given to us, as we can read elsewhere: "If you then, being evil, give to your children what is good, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Lk 11:13) Here we feel all the longing of Jesus, "I have come to cast fire on the earth." But then we too must long for this fire, for the Holy Spirit.
"I must be baptized with a baptism, and how am I afflicted until it is accomplished." (cf. verse 50)
Here Jesus' longing becomes clear: He suffers until he is immersed in this suffering, out of which the Holy Spirit is sent out over the earth. He longs for this baptism of suffering. In Greek, the past tense of the aorist is used here, so it is something unique, precisely the culmination of his life, his total surrender in his suffering and death. And he longs for this, because this is the prerequisite for the fire of the Holy Spirit to fall on earth. Jesus' longing is, actually, the longing to win people through the Holy Spirit. The baptism by John in the Jordan was the preparation for the mission of Jesus as the Messiah, the baptism of suffering on the cross is its completion.
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (cf. verse 51-53)
What frightening words of Jesus: "Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, not peace, but division." This is followed by a description of the most intimate community of life. If five people live in the same house, there will be discord. This seems strange to us at first. After all, Jesus came to bring peace. And here he does not speak of peace, but of discord. Is this not a contradiction to other statements? No, it is merely a statement.
As already said, Jesus came to cast fire on the earth, the Holy Spirit. But what does this Holy Spirit do in the world? He brings about discernment. That is why e.g. the old Simeon in the temple says to Mary: This one is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel and the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed through him - through Christ. And the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sends, causes exactly that in the hearts of the people: He provokes and he divides! This is what Jesus says here. The consequence of this fire, which he earns on the cross, of this Holy Spirit, will be that even in the most intimate community of the family suddenly discord and division will prevail.
But all this is not a consequence of Christianity, but it is the reaction of the world to the work of the Holy Spirit. The world resists against this Holy Spirit and against Christ. It wants to go its own way. It is selfish. It does not want to submit to God. Where people are seized by the fire of the Holy Spirit and try to follow Jesus, they provoke their environment. We experience this everywhere.
The word "come" in Greek is in the perfect tense and thus expresses something permanent. Until Christ comes again, there will be a permanent situation in the world that a Christian who lets himself be ignited by this fire of the spirit and tries to live honestly according to it, provokes others - even into his own community, into his own family. Jesus here takes away all illusions from the disciples. He tells them plainly what awaits them when they follow Christ. The kingdom of God does not come without suffering! And this divorce will also painfully affect the disciples. The demand of Jesus to surrender completely to him and to follow him will ignite an inner war even in the closest human community of the family, a discord that can tear apart very close ties.
This is exactly what we experience again and again, that people within the family complain that one spouse walks the path with Christ, really lets himself be ignited by the Holy Spirit - and thus provokes the other spouse. The other spouse wants to live a different life, he does not want to live too piously, but enjoys the worldly life. He questions this new way of life with God and somewhere he knows - who is usually also a Christian - that the resolutely living spouse lives according to the word and commandment of God. But that is exactly why he resists it, because he does not want to accept it. This then results in discord and division. The spirit of God provokes the one who does not surrender to it but carries the spirit of the world within himself and consciously lives according to it.
Something similar happens between parents and children. Again and again, young people who, at some point, have found their faith anew and now do a little more than just pray one "Our Father" a day report that they are called excessive and bigoted by their own parents and are told: Stay normal. The other young people don't do that either. Stay like the others, and so on. This is exactly what Jesus predicted.
So it is not that he has come to bring division. He does not want division. He wants unity. But where this fire of the Holy Spirit is present, where people really let themselves be addressed by him and live a life of devotion to Christ, the others who do not want to do this, who want to enjoy life in some way, who do not want to keep to the Word of God, to the laws of God, will feel provoked, even in the most intimate community of life. They will defend themselves with all kinds of excuses against the believing part in their family or community. This is a very concrete situation. But in the light of today's Gospel, we can better understand this situation and, to some extent, endure it. Let us not resist it. Let us remain in love. Only love can overcome barriers. Only through it can the Spirit of God also win the other members in the family, in the close living community or in any group of friends. And that is what it is all about. ∎